Ashes to Ashes: A Short Story
by Thabo Manthonsi
No one will tell you but this is how it happened. When we entered the quarantine zone, everyone was promised adequate care and attention but do not be deceived dear friends, people lie! The first sight we saw was of big chimney that blew the black steam of the lost brothers and sisters that couldn’t breathe anymore. We asked why there was an incinerator at a place of hope and good health but the stretchers they pushed us in were the only things that answered us back with the crackly wheel noise they made as they pushed us inside this place of death. Lloyd, Millicent, Lewis, Marlene, Tabitha, Craig, Jimmy, fat Albert, tiny Carrie, Morris Junior and Zahra, these were my friends. One by one they gave up the ghost and like a trophy that no one aspires to have, l gathered all their ashes in a bread plastic bag! Black or white, it didn’t matter who you were or at least l thought it didn’t!
“Black lives matter”, we were happy when we watched the demonstrations on the old TV that had one channel. However when we learnt that the whites on the single wards were being given meat whilst we ate lentils and caster beans daily I knew that we didn’t matter! You see the greatest disease in this life isn’t favoritism, greed, power or epidemics but its simple race! When the donated ventilators arrived after days of pain and death, suddenly fangs came out as the greatest question of the day was about money! Who could afford it and for how long? For those that couldn’t, they made sure to bring pastors that prayed for your last days over the binds of the glass wall they viewed us as wounded animals from. Pity! This is the only medicine we could all share equally as we gasped for air and forced ourselves to eat the food they prepared for us whilst complaining about us not dying fast enough.
I prayed tirelessly in silence dear friend and even kept the Holy Bible under my pillow when l fell asleep daily but nothing changed. The only thing l heard daily was the sound of the mocking birds as they mocked my weary lifestyle and morning struggles to get to the bathroom. To say I had given up hope was an understatement but in the midst of all this pain, I found my calling. I understood my purpose and why l had survived all this long whilst all of my friends had gone. It was simple really, my role was to tell you this story so that when you also leave, you properly orient the new outcast to the real nature of this world. Lab rats, test subjects or martyrdom if you like but no matter which term was used to gossip about us, at the end of the day we were human beings! My new found purpose made me love my God even more, after all, belief is a covenant, in sickness, good or bad and this had never dwelled on me like this before.
Culture, oh yes my friend, this you must know! Indeed l was African and where l came from we ate together and shared the most tremendously exciting and horrid moments of life together. My people understand the basic laws of humanity but indeed knowledge is power and power is policed on who has the most influence. In their shallow minds, quarantined people like us were not only good as dead but were believed to be weak and evil doers punished for their bad acts in this world. So no one came to see me in my death bed dear friend, no one, not even family or an intruder that barged in by mistake! We were all alone and what made it even worse was their habit of sanitizing their hands every time they touched us with latex gloves. It was bad my friends, it was!
How about love you wonder l guess? Well unfortunately l would never know how that feels like buddy. You see, I had a plan that I would work hard and be independent and marry the girl of my dreams when l reached 29 but here we are, if horses were wishes hey! I used to see myself as a writer and a lifetimes people’s champion in advocacy and generally a cool chap and maybe l get to be all of this with you. This place will absorb you assimilate its dirt infested walls inside the very core of your soul but remember, we serve a living God and I will be waiting to greet you on the other side, if you make it!
I can sense that you are a bit edgy about this, let me move onto other things whilst you digest this reality. The day you come in and they put a clock facing you, ask them politely to leave with it. You see, they won’t tell you that every minute and alarm that the clock ticks and rings is a countdown to your grave. It’s a reminder that you a statistic waiting to be ticked off a register so that someone else takes over your bed. Do not cry my friend, a wise man once told me to never cling to this life for all things are vanity and trust me, you will understand this soon.
Well enough about me, well at least for now! I like to know people and what drives them so tell me, what’s your dream car like or favorite sport? Nah l do not think you are a sporty type of person, modeling? Hiking? Nah! You strike me as an introvert, reading novels maybe? Read “Born on a Tuesday” by Elnathan John, that one is a classic my friend! This place is hell but that book is one of the few good things they have in abundance. Um a radical soccer fan and basketball fanatic when it comes to sports and my favorite movie is Tarzan can you believe it? Ha-ha, well I am not mesmerized by the whole jumping from tree to tree act but the way he relates with his animal family and treats them with respect. Now right there dear friend is rare especially in this life were the motto is kill what you eat!
Education! Well l learnt at a boarding school where teachers were leaving the same day they arrived and at times it would get so bad that the janitor would pitch to teach what they assumed to be “life skills”. In short, the grounds-men could be both marking the grounds and math for you and no one would query it because it was in a remote rural school were the sound and sight of a car was like gold itself! Okay um lying ha-ha, I learnt at a rural school as a day scholar and miraculously made it to varsity despite the hardships l faced. You see, I am from a polygamous family were my father has four wives and none of them like me or my mother. She is the youngest, not young like young but young in the sense that she’s the fourth wife hope you get it! I am her only child and the oldest boy in the family!
Long story short, my other mothers want my father’s blessing for their children, my siblings, my young brothers, and my blood, boys that see me as a hero and love me regardless of who our mothers are! What a cliché isn’t it? Finally they will have what they have longed for but if l had a way to talk to them or at least ask them one last question l would ask them if it was all worth it? Don’t feel sorry for me, this is exactly what drove me to be where l am in life today, well not on this bed of course but in life! When they saw me as a stepping stone, means to an end and obstacle kept soaring on high and loving them even more. I never raised my voice at them even when l was mad at them because that is what ‘Tarzan” does, respect! They will be alright! And my mother will heal and find happiness again that l pray every day for.
Before I forget, lets discuss about this COVID-19 that we are positive with shall we! It doesn’t matter that they will say it came from China or that it is a communicable respiratory disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus that causes illness in humans. What matters my friend is that you and l will share the same bed because of it and this genealogy will be a swift and regular one until we try our best to save the next outcast to grace this bed. You never know, maybe you might also make it or they may. What is killing me is that my lungs are collapsing and l heard the doctor gossiping with the nurse that l have holes in my lungs due to the virus that can’t be patched up. However, I have embraced my fate and it’s a miracle that l have survived this long already. In the private wards, they steam the patients daily with lemon and onion water amongst other curative measure and you know what? Those guys survive! I do not know how you will do it or when you will do it but try my friend just try!
Did you know that a snail can sleep for three years, elephants can’t jump and polar bears are left handed? I mean who cares right? They are busy telling us that if you sneeze too hard you can fracture your rib but wen l try too they say holding my breath won’t kill me! People are silent about the yawning gap in society between the haves and haves not! Well maybe this place will also create a philosopher out of you my friend but what would you do if you were given a second chance at life? I have thought about this for countless minutes and hours and l always arrive to the same answer. Teach the kids that the world is colorless and privileges are for those that make it to heaven! In this way maybe black and white won’t be thing and race will finally be a word used to indicate track events only!
Hi my friend, l am sorry that l didn’t get to greet you properly when l began to write to you. I wrote this in haste and with the last energy reserve that l had but nonetheless it was worth it. It’s about that time that l tell you my name right? Well my name doesn’t matter, just call me the “guy who tagged you next”. However if you make it, tell the world that l was a cheerful young black man who wanted nothing more than everybody to be happy. People love those kind of stories nowadays anyway, they want to know the man behind the story but not what he is! !
This is not a suicide or goodbye note my friend, this is indeed a leap of faith. Broadening new horizons, inner peace if you may like and l am over joyed about it! I hid this letter at the bed’s metal edge in between the springs and if you found it , thank you, it means that l have fulfilled my purpose. The button stick is in your court now, may you pass it to the world unapologetically hard and unbroken! All this l have told you because l believe in you and l know you will make it! I only ask one favor from you.
When they have cremated my remains, please pour my ash into the bread plastic bag full of ash in your compartment.
With love, Your Best friend
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